May 22, 2008

Coastal recreational fishing license sales are down this year


Coastal recreational fishing license sales are running more than 35 percent behind sales in 2007.

North Carolina sold 58,333 individual licenses between January 1 and April 30, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC).

A report issued by the WRC and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) last year listed 91,066 sales from January 1 through April 23, 2007.

License types include annual, 10-day, lifetime, as well as ones that combine coastal and inland fishing privileges.  

Sales of the most popular type, the annual coastal recreational fishing license, have fallen 43.7 percent.  

Frank Folb, owner of Fran and Fran’s Tackle Shop in Avon, said license sales at his store fall in line with the statewide trend, dropping about 35 percent.

Folb said sales got off to a slow start in January when striped bass, the mainstay of the winter recreational fishery on the Outer Banks, failed to move into the waters off Hatteras Island.

He said closures of beach areas this spring by the National Park Service under a consent decree that settled a lawsuit over off-road vehicle use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore have contributed to the decline in license sales.  The closures have cut access to some popular fishing spots, such as Cape Point.

“And, I suspect we’ll see an even greater effect from the closures this summer,” Folb predicted.

Revenue from all coastal recreational fishing licenses, with the exception of lifetime licenses, go into the Marine Resources Fund to support projects that improve fisheries data collection, fisheries habitat, public access and education.

Six projects totaling $1.6 million have been approved for funding. Those projects include license implementation and sales support, a stock assessment scientist position and program at DMF, a coastal anglers guidebook, and $200,000 to help with conversion of the old Chowan River Bridge into a public fishing pier by WRC.

Three additional projects – two proposed by DMF and one by WRC – were approved by a MFC and WRC license subcommittee in March.

DMF requested $445,000 for construction of a fishing reef and $65,000 for the purchase of a shallow-draft barge, and WRC requested $900,000 to go towards the bridge project.

“The committee felt that these projects meet the core objectives of the strategic plan for license funds, and didn’t need to compete for funds through the formal request for proposal process,” Louis Daniel, DMF director, explained.

But when the MFC met in Greenville last month, not all members were eager to endorse additional funds for the Chowan River Bridge project without reviewing a formal proposal.

“DMF had drawn-up proposals for their projects, but we didn’t have a written statement from WRC about the Chowan River Bridge,” said MFC Vice-Chairman B.J. Copeland.

“We set up the process overseeing use of the funds one year ago and decided that was how we were going to operate, but right out of the gate it looked like we could be circumventing the process,” he said.

“The process is extremely important,” Copeland added.

“Any difference of opinion centered on the process.  A peer review of the bridge project had been done,” said Gordon Myers, WRC deputy director.

Myers said the agency is working on a formal proposal that will be presented to the MFC in June.

“There’ll be no more set-aside projects after these projects,” said DMF director Daniel.

He said a request for proposals from the public would be issued later this month.

“We won’t know how much money will be available until the end of the month, but I suspect it will be in the $1.5 million range,” he said.

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